After finishing school, the Mexico City-based photographer Yvonne Venegas worked for a few years for fashion photographers in New York, assisting Jüergen Teller and Dana Lixenberg, two photographers known for walking the line between glamour and grit. Without reading too much into those years, it’s worth noting the respect she gives to her subjects’ beauty, and their desire to be beautiful. She frames her subjects in ways that make them immensely pleasing to look at, even when her images have complicated undertones. In the early 2000s, for instance, she photographed the wealthy matriarch Maria Elvia Hank, looking glamorous and composed, placing Christmas candles on a Reindeer-shaped candelabrum. But a servant bends down behind Mrs. Hank, picking up a candle she has dropped, revealing the infrastructure supporting the smooth presentation.
Venegas’s current exhibition, on view through October 25 at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, is called San Pedro Garza Garcia, after the community it depicts. A suburb of Monterrey in the Mexican state of Nuevo León, San Pedro Garza García has a population of about 150,000 and the highest per capita income of any Latin American municipality. This attracted Venegas to it, as did the city’s singular ability to ward off the effects of the drug war that has ravaged so many other Mexican communities.
Her photographs don’t allude explicitly to this socioeconomic context. Instead, they portray in between moments in an attractive world that appears relatively self-contained. A group of seven models, all brunette and all in white shirts and jeans, look at fashion magazines underneath a chandelier. Three of them level gazes at the camera. A bride, alone underneath a romantic painting of cupid and a candelabrum, adjusts her dress. Two adolescent girls, lanky and maybe bored, sit on a wrap-around beige couch in a living room that’s impressively clutter-free. It’s pristine but languid: The Truman Show meets The Ice Storm. Even her cityscapes, which suggest the existence of a bigger, rougher world, are suspiciously calm.
Venegas’s subjects are mostly unattainable anomalies but her portrayal of relatable moments behind the scenes blurs the abnormality into normality and makes her work compelling. Her images invite you to try to pick apart the roles people are playing, especially in San Pedro Garcia, where it’s clear class and hierarchy matter, but it’s never clear who has what power in the various moments she’s portrayed.